Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I find this photo hilarious -- a bride and groom by Stella Lai's installation, "Don't Touch Me."

I've always thought this installation is one of Stella's best-conceived works. Those heads are wax. Then she crocheted blue and white masks to put over them, such that they'd come to form the phrase "Don't Touch Me" when you walk away from the wall and look at them from a distance. That is, the phrase is not evident if you're nose to installation.

So many concepts--both art-world bred and general--are addressed by the installation. Lissen up for your art-reading du jour:

First, this is an exercise in making and not just concept, referring to ye olde discourse in the art world. Crocheting all those masks must have nearly given Stella carpal tunnel syndrome (said syndrome being a sign of the commitment to the making). And yet what are being made are repetitive, both the molded heads and the masks, such that it evokes the factory, except the factory is one. It's worth noting that the artist had come to install it in the house and after the installation, she then signed her signature on the wall beneath the piece's lower right-side corner. By itself, that gesture says something about the commercialization/commodification of art, nay the fragility of existence! -- how, if the signature is part of the work, and I believe in this case it is, then the installation is no longer independent by itself but tied to the life of the house (which can be sold, demolished, damaged by an earthquake et al). If the house owner had to move from the house, for instance, is this an art work that can be moved/separated from the house? Take that, ye art collectors vs art appreciators!

Second, and I do believe Moi contributed to this (such is my role for ye artists, of course), by happening to have a white wall for the installation. That is, this area is the house's foyer and the hubby and I determined a long time ago (much to the distress of some visual artist friends) to keep the walls free of art, in part to focus the eye to the view of nature just beyond the French doors opposite the front door. We made an exception because the installation, with all of its white heads, is not obstrusive. Not obstrusive -- almost invisible, like the hidden subtext of this work by a Chinese female.

Or, perhaps, Chinese-American now since she's been working for years now in the U.S. where she surely couldn't escape ethnic / immigrant issues including the stereotypes of Asian Americans and/or Asian American females. So, close up to the installation, you don't see the message of "Don't Touch Me." What you see are faces, but you may not necessarily see the true face or identity -- they are masked!

You have to walk away from the installation in order to see the true message, "Don't Touch Me"! There has to be distance between you and the installation. If the installation is a persona, it means you can't be infringing on that persona(l) space. You can't be colonizing that space. You have to be respectful.

But the message is obviously belligerent. Well, belligerence is not what's been associated with certain stereotypes of Asian(-American) females, yah? What are those stereotypes? Quiet, model minority, demure, exoticized for the male gaze et al -- all disputed by belligerence.

Indeed, in order for the work to be installed, the wall behind it had to be penetrated as many times as there are heads. That is, each head is at the end of a big nail that had to be screwed into the wall. The act of installation was a furious experience -- loud, noisy, messy. It was not ... demure. I can easily imagine the act of installing to have been a performance of acting back at how the Asian American female has been objectified in the past.

Indeedy, you can push the above lines of thought to say the impossible commercialization of the installation says something about the impossibility of owning the (Asian American) female body -- doesn't that resonate in light of such matters as the mail order bride, sex slavery/trafficking, domestic worker abuse etc?

Okay, nuff said. I can say more and I could have said the above more intellectually but what do you expect from a two-minute posting? Let me now get to the point of this post (hah). We interrupt our regular programming to share photos from a wedding that took place on Galatea a few months ago. The groom is our best friend, such a good friend we built a house just to throw him a wedding someday. Which is not to say we don't feel sorry for the bride. But, okay, Best Friend: here are the scenes from the crime of your bride's appalling taste (and don't forget what I said about us Asian American females!):

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